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Supreme Court upset as Maxis owner fails to turn up in court

Maxis group of companies’ controlling owner T. Ananda Krishnan. File photo  

A day after the Special Court discharged “all the accused” in the Aircel-Maxis deal case, the Supreme Court on Friday was in no mood to forgive Maxis group of companies’ controlling owner T. Ananda Krishnan and three others named in the CBI charge sheet.

A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, found that the four — Mr. Ananda Krishnan, M/s. Astro All Asia Networks Limited, M/s. Maxis Communications and Augustus Ralph Marshall, a director in Maxis and Astro — had not bothered to comply with its January 6, 2017, order directing them to show their bona fide by entering appearance in court.

Supreme Court upset as Maxis owner fails to turn up in court
 

Restraint order

A visibly annoyed Bench found that neither its proposal to pass a restraint order against Aircel-Maxis from earning revenue on its spectrum nor the advertisements published in two Malaysian newspapers about its January 6 order had swayed the “absconders” to comply with the due process of law.

On January 6, the court had also stayed any attempts by Aircel-Maxis to sell or transfer spectrum allocated to it in November 2006.

This was based on an application by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, alleging that Aircel-Maxis was “attempting to quickly sell off its allotted spectrum, which is a precious natural resource belonging to the people of India, to Bharti Airtel and Reliance Communications for thousands of crores, and exit the market with huge sums of money.”

“He [Mr. Ananda Krishnan] does not care for the law of this country. He does not care for the Supreme Court of this country... then we will punish him... we will see to it,” Chief Justice Khehar, flanked by Justices N.V. Ramana and D.Y. Chandrachud, orally observed during the hearing.

The trigger for the remarks came when senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing Aircel, contended that his client should not be made to suffer financial loss for the conduct of Mr. Ananda Krishnan and the other three. Mr. Singhvi said the trial court had dropped charges against all the accused.

“If that is so, why is he [Mr. Ananda Krishnan] running away from the law? Why can’t he be represented through counsel and state the facts here?” Chief Justice Khehar shot back.

Mr. Singhvi urged caution on the court’s part, saying a restraint order meant to enforce the appearance of the Maxis owner and the other three would harm Aircel. The lawyer said Aircel had no control over Mr. Ananda Krishna and was not his “alterego.” “Why should Your Lordships punish me for something done by Mr. Ananda Krishnan,” asked Mr. Singhvi.

But at this point, Justice Chandrachud remarked that “73% of Aircel is owned by Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd and 100% of Global Communication Services Holdings Ltd is owned by M/s Maxis Communications Berhad, Malaysia [who was one of the accused in the CBI charge sheet].”

Mr. Singhvi referred to an Aircel press release on record to inform the court of a proposed Reliance Wireless-Aircel merger through transfer of 50% shares to liquidate a ₹20,000 crore debt owed to nationalised banks, represented by Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi. Mr. Singhvi said any adverse order from the court now would spoil Aircel’s chances to help the court “procure” Mr. Ananda Krishnan’s presence.

“You are Aircel. You are a non-entity. We did not ask you to procure him. Maxis owns you. Who are you to come here and fight proxy for them?” Chief Justice Khehar lashed out.

The Bench warned that it would even consider “allowing the government to auction” the asset allocated to Aircel-Maxis rather than enter into a merger with Reliance.

“Rather than this transfer by means of merger to Reliance, we will allow the government to auction this very asset. We will keep the minimum price for auction at ₹20,000 crore. The money will be used to clear the debts,” Chief Justice Khehar observed.

When Mr. Singhvi protested that such a “punishment is wrong,” the Bench said it would adopt any means to ensure that there is “no one absconds from the debts or the law of this country.”

Chief Justice Khehar, referring to Mr. Rohatgi, said the government would not object to an auction as the “government never supports a person who absconds from the law.”

The Bench, however, allowed Aircel to file a detailed affidavit to explain its position. The court posted the case for hearing on Friday next.


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